04/16/2002 11:00PM

Fairmount track report


COLLINSVILLE, Ill. - Last July, when Fairmount was forced to cut back to three racing days per week, leading rider Tommy Pompell decided to pack his tack and look for better opportunities elsewhere.

First Pompell went to Ellis Park, where he struggled to gain business. But at the Hoosier Park meet, which opened in September, he finished sixth in the standings with 42 wins.

After that he followed trainer Don Rice to Tampa Bay Downs and did well, winning 21 races before leaving in February, drawn back home by the improved purse structure and the desire to be near his family.

"Doing well at those bigger tracks made me a better rider, not only by forcing me to improve my game but because I also gained a lot of confidence," Pompell said.

Pompell, 29, has started the 2002 meet strongly, winning with 12 of 33 mounts in the first four racing days. He has scored two four-baggers along with a riding triple.

Perhaps the most gratifying of Pompell's wins this meet came on opening night aboard owner-trainer Ron Brandenburg's Tic N Tin, for whom he was the regular rider before leaving Fairmount.

Tic N Tin, a 7-year-old Illinois-bred gelding who has won stakes at Fairmount and at Chicago tracks, won an allowance on opening night to put his career earnings over $500,000, the vast majority of which has come since Brandenburg claimed him for $25,000 at Hawthorne in the fall of 1999.

* Ralph Martinez, who at age 23 tied for ninth in the national trainer standings last year with 179 wins and led all trainers with over 400 starts in winning percentage by scoring with 34 percent of his runners, was up to his old tricks opening weekend as well. Martinez sent out three winners on opening night and seven of 26 over the opening four cards for owner Lou O'Brien.

* Sammy the Champ again proved he is the best quarter-miler on the grounds opening night, winning the Inaugural Sprint in track-record-equaling time of 21.40 under Mike James. Sammy the Champ has now won three consecutive local races over the last two years at the distance. He is trained by Harvey Jackson and owned by Allan McKee.